St. Vincent’s Highlights Crunch for Hospitals Serving the Poor

| July 20, 2011 10:49 AM

The area around 12th Street and Seventh Avenue in the heart of Greenwich Village is remarkably quite these days — so quiet that Yetta Kurland, an activist, goes so far as to say that “it almost looks like a bomb went off.”

The current plan for St. Vincent's hospital calls for putting a freestanding emergency treatment center in the landmark O'Toole building on Seventh Avenue. Some in the community would like a full-fledged hospital there instead. Flickr/Mementosis

The block was home to St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan, which closed in April 2010 after years of financial troubles. St. Vincent’s, which cared for victims of the Titanic, the AIDS epidemic and the 9/11 attacks, was New York City’s last Catholic general hospital, and its absence has been felt throughout the community.

In addition, St. Vincent’s was one of New York City’s most prominent safety-net hospitals, serving mostly those either on Medicaid or Medicare or without insurance. It was also known as a refuge for the homeless. It has principally been these patients, then, who have been hit the hardest by St. Vincent’s closing and by the shutting of other hospitals elsewhere in the city.

Filling the Void

Regardless of income, most residents of the Lower West Side who used to go to St. Vincent’s now end up either at Beth Israel or Bellevue on the East Side. Shortly after St. Vincent’s closed, Timothy Lunsford, a survivor of two heart attacks and two bouts of cancer, experienced a medical emergency in which his blood pressure dropped to a dangerously low level.

“It took me 33 minutes to get from Canal Street and Varick to Beth Israel hospital,” he said.

Both hospitals have had to adapt to a rapidly growing patient volume, which Lewis Goldfrank, Bellevue’s chief of emergency medicine, has called “a significant disaster.”

“Those 60,000 people [treated each year at St. Vincent's] now have to find another place to go, so the nearest emergency rooms are overwhelmed. … And it’s not because the hospitals aren’t trying, but they’re unable to cope with what is a disaster,” said David Kaufman, a member of St. Vincent’s medical staff for 30 years and a part of the Coalition for a New Village Hospital.

With no access to local care, overcrowded emergency rooms in neighboring hospitals, the loss of a medical safety net and longer waits, the health situation in Greenwich Village is a “crisis,” according to Kurland, also a member of the coalition. To remedy the problem, the coalition wants to see nothing less than a full-service hospital at the former St. Vincent’s site.

Read the full post at Gotham Gazette.

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